History Bits


Some of you get bonus points by asking really good questions. On this page I’m collecting some of them and hopefully some decent answers.

“The path you’re taking doesn’t seem to make sense sometimes. Instead of a straight line between points you wander around – sometimes going ‘the long way around’. Why?”

The answer is varied. Take Day 1; the route makes no sense at all. I started by tracing a previously published route, and you’re right, it makes no sense. Why they chose to hug the Thames River so tightly is strange to me. Perhaps it is for the view, but most likely this route remains pedestrian-only for as long as possible. I’ve seen several places where the “official” route goes around 3 sides of a field to avoid 100’ of roadway. This is an attempt to slowly gain access-rights completely off road. As the miles wear on, the likelihood of us choosing the shorter option will undoubtedly go up exponentially!

Our illogical Day1 Route in Purple

But we will always make some strange detours. Sometimes this is to see something special (an historical site or natural wonder). Other times it will be purely practical (the closest highway, railway, or river crossing or nearest available lodging or water supply). Yet other times it will be our mood..“I just can’t face yet another wheat field.”

“How did you choose your start point?”

The Via Francigena actually starts in Canterbury and traces the route (in reverse) of Sigeric the Serious’ return from Rome after being made Archbishop of Canterbury in AD 990. But I wanted to make the trip just a bit longer for several reasons…

The martyrdom of Thomas a’ Becket
  1. If you’re going to walk 1150 miles, you might as well walk 1400 right!
  2. The route from London to Canterbury is also famous as a Pilgrimage route. It traces a route of pilgrimage to venerate Thomas a’ Becket who was made a saint after being murdered by Henry II’s knights (apparently all just a misunderstanding). Henry and Thomas were once friends but came in conflict over the secular vs religious realms of influence – particularly that of who gets to decide who is King.
  3. Southwark Cathedral to Canterbury Cathedral is the route immortalized by Chaucer in The Canterbury Tales
  4. Southwark Cathedral is a “Pilgrimage” cathedral – more on that later
  5. <jokingly> I wanted to walk farther than Efren Gonzalez (a video blogger I’ve followed). Haha. He started from Canterbury.

What are those Books for that you are getting stamped!

In the Middle Ages people traveled on Pilgrimage for as many reasons as do modern travelers: spiritual, adventure, profit, etc. But one of the major draws (one that eventually helped spaw the Protestant Reformation and even the Catholic Counter-Reformation) was the potential to receive – upon completion of your Pilgrimage – an indulgence. These were formal recognition of your pilgrimage and fulfillment of an act of penance and basically offered you forgiveness. At first this seems all quite benign. But humans being what they are, the system became corrupted. People would show up at a pilgrim destination and claim they’d arrived on a pilgrimage when in fact they’d walked 5 miles from a nearby village.

So a system was put in place to provide evidence of your journey – the credential. A credential is basically a log of your journey. At each place you stopped the local priest would certify that you’d been through his parish by providing his seal on your credential – sometimes for a fee.

This system was itself rife for abuse of course and forgeries were common. Local taverns and others eager to make a quick ducat got in on the act as well.

The modern credential is still “inspected” upon arrival at Santiago and Rome et al and an indulgence or at least a testimonial is still offered. But mostly these credentials serve their original intent of being a log of your travel told in often beautifully crafted stamps. Along the Spanish Camino each town or church or even bar takes great pride in their stamps.

Our 2014 Camino de Santiago Credencials

What is a Pilgrimage church (architecturally)?

As the practice of pilgrimage exploded during the Middle Ages churches offered sanctuary to pilgrims along the way. Some offered “special” attractions such as relics – bits of items deemed to be holy due to their link with a biblical figure or saint. Some of these relics you may recognize and even today understand why people may travel to see them.

For example on church might claim to the the burial sight of your patron saint or another claim to have the Holy Grail. Others are more bizarre to our minds – the fingernail of St Bartholomew, or a shoe lace from Peter’s sandal. But all of these relics were venerated and those churches that had particularly noteworthy relics or many of them drew large crowds.

When I say “large” I mean, by-the-thousands..daily. As you can imagine, the church itself had practical problems supporting this number of visitors. Worship services were always interrupted by the throngs of pilgrims wandering through to venerate the relic.

To solve this problem, a main nave was retained but two side naves built to each side. This was common in architecture but a true pilgrimage church took the concept further by extending the side naves up and around the front of the alter such that a one-way path from one entrance to the other was formed. Along this path, side chapels were built to house the relics and offer places of worship.

This a central nave and alter supported the main worship and the throngs of pilgrims could wander in one door and out the next without disturbing the worship of the main body. This circuit was also named the “pilgrimage” of the church as it supported a journey in and through the church in an act of worship.


I don’t know if you can see it in this map but there is a walled city with a prominent cathedral. This is Therouanne. Well… it was in 1553. But in 1553 Charles V of Spain et al destroyed the town so completely that even the foundation of the cathedral was dug up and scattered. Where the main gate stood is the site of a current museum.

What photo/video equipment do you use? Is that a drone?

When considering camera equipment it was a balance of three things.

Firstly there is the distraction of having any at all. In many ways I’d like to leave it all behind. There is always a danger of living your pilgrimage behind a lens. I’ve been tempted take nothing but I always chicken out. Too often I’ve been able to re-live a pilgrimage by looking back at my photos. I don’t want to give that up.

Secondly is intent. I’ve previously take a SonyRX100 camera. It’s combination of light weight and picture quality combined with 10x optical zoom is ideal. It’s video quality is also very good BUT not while walking. For true video quality while hiking you need either a gimbal or a GoPro/Insta360/DJI type camera. I really wanted to capture video on this trip so I chose the Insta360 One R camera with a 360 lens and a 1” wide angle lens. It’s just the most versatile, lightest weight system I could find. What I give up with this is artistic quality still images. You can not adjust depth of field with this system. I did bring (but have only used once), a 4x filter to simulate closeups…but it’s a poor substitute.

Thirdly is weight. I’m a self proclaimed gram weenie. I weighed my safety pins used to hang clothes to dry to find the lightest ones. To make the Insta360 really shine you need a selfie stick. They sell a good one but I just didn’t want the weight. I do however carry a walking pole. I McGyver’d my pole to attach a camera mount and I’m very happy with the result. Here’s a changeout video taken from our Auberge tonight

The pole to selfie-stick conversion.

This set up allows me to take drone-like footage (the Insta360 software makes the stick disappear), it is 100% waterproof (you can take underwater shots down to 30’), and changing out the lens’ is a piece of cake. It also charges fast and takes common microSD cards for memory.

Finally, since I was taking my iPhone anyway, I use it for quick shots and some simple artistic shots.

My Insta360 setup sans the usb charge cable



The Place d’Heros Arras

Arras is an interesting place. Too bad we did not arrive in the city earlier. The main square is quite beautiful and filled with historical buildings with distinctive Flemish architecture. And like every city in Europe, stories. The one that caught our attention is about the tunnels below the main square that you can tour. So the tunnels started out as cellars, ancient ones. During WWI the soldiers connected all the cellars forming tunnels in preparation for the launch of the disastrous 1917 Battles. During this preparation over 14000 soldiers more than the entire population of the town, were sheltered in the tunnels to hide the impending attack from the Germans. Then in WWII the tunnels were used for air raid shelters for the entire population of the city.

The sunken road – Arras

First some background.

Some details of the Sunken Road. Best when listening to this:


Details of the Sunken Road

Bring on your questions!

And I’ll see if I can answer them. :).